Wooing Ms. Maudie, a Zimbabwean love story

After publishing his first novel, God Knows: It’s Not About Us, in 2005, former St. James-by-the-Sea Rector Blayney Colmore returns with a new novel, inspired by his seven-month sabbatical in Zimbabwe in 1984.

Blayney Colmore returns with a new novel set in Zimbabwe.
Blayney Colmore returns with a new novel set in Zimbabwe.

Meander: Wooing Ms. Maudie is a love story, set against the turbulent political backdrop of Zimbabwe, involving the fictional black African daughter of brutal dictator Robert Mugabe and a white American middle-class altruistic dreamer who meet as students at Wharton School of Business in Philadelphia. Through his novel, Colmore seeks to share the transformative impact his months in Africa had on his own life and that of his family.

“My hope was that if I could make these characters matter enough to the readers, then all the readers’ prejudices about the world and Africa would get turned upside down and they’d lose confidence in their certainties. That was my experience in Africa,” Colmore explains. “A lot of what our lives have been, and certainly our children’s lives, have been forever marked by this experience.”

Colmore, 70, the son of a Proctor & Gamble executive, was raised in segregated South Carolina and later lived with his family in the Philippines, surrounded by servants.

“I grew up with people of colour taking care of me. I had this affection for them, but the sense they were on a lower rung,” he says.

Altered perceptions

Zimbabwe changed that attitude, he explains. His sabbatical upended his perspective and understanding of race and provided an altered perception of what it means to be a racial minority. His presence as a relatively rare white elicited at best curiosity, sometimes hostility, but always required extra caution. Colmore returned to the United States with a new understanding and compassion for what it means to be a minority.

He hopes that his book will have a similarly transformative effect on his readers’ attitudes towards race and minorities.

Meander: Wooing Ms. Maudie gives dramatic meaning to the term "sexual politics." The relationship between the (fictional) daughter of Zimbabwe's President Mugabe and her American co-protagonist is a driving force for this engaging story. With an obvious compassion for the people, history and current circumstances of Zimbabwe, Colmore weaves a rich tapestry of personal relationships and international political intrigue.

The story has the feel of an insider's understanding of the land redistribution policy and Zimbabwe's involvement in the Congo civil war that led to economic chaos and continuing political oppression under President Mugabe. The short staccato chapters keep up the fast pace of this well researched novel. It is a good summer adventure that provides the reader with a fresh perspective on a deeply troubled part of southern Africa.

Colmore, who retired in 1996 after nine years at St. James and now splits his time with his wife, Lacey, between La Jolla and a 19th century farmhouse in rural Vermont, does not fit the typical preconception of a retired cleric. Far from the fusty, stuffy clergyman of antiquated literature, the lean, athletic ocean swimmer brims with life and sports a ready smile and quick laugh.

Vagaries of life

He exudes an appreciation for the vagaries of life and an irreverent attitude toward establishment institutions. An unabashed liberal activist and proud child of the ‘60s, Colmore comfortably recalls his time protesting the Vietnam War and working to advance racial equality, women’s rights and social justice. He defends the goals he worked for in the ‘60s.

That progressive activism is reflected in his books as well as his newsletter commentaries and weekly blog, “Zone Notes.”

He took up writing while on a Charleston sabbatical during his tenure at St. James, holing up in a cottage experimenting with writing while his wife, an interior designer, explored historic houses.

“I really write because I just have to write. Once I’ve written a piece, like my weekly Zone Notes, I feel exhilarated. It’s a physical sensation,” he explains.

Colmore pursued his vocation of public service into the Episcopal priesthood, following his grandfather who spent 40 years as Episcopal bishop of Puerto Rico. His career began on an activist note in Akron, OH, in 1966.

“Being the youngest, newest, most naïve clergyperson in the city of Akron, I was elected president of the Summit County Committee for Peace in Vietnam. It was a pretty conservative place,” he says.

Immersed in reality

His current view of politics and religion reflects that early experience. “I feel my role is to underscore reality. … one of the roles of religion when it works properly is not to divert people from reality but to immerse them in it.”

Now he admits to being “more fed by Buddhist than Christian insight,” and to being turned off by the rise of fundamentalism. Yet he embraces his years as an Episcopal priest. “I’m so glad I did it and so glad I’ve had a long chapter after that.”

Colmore’s friend Ann Craig, who first met him in Washington, D.C., in the late ‘60s when he was assistant rector of St. John’s Lafayette Square across from the White House, finds his new book “challenging.”

“Mugabe is depicted as not as cruel a leader as I believe he is, which requires a suspension of disbelief. I think Blayney has very good insight and views of Africa. He’s a creative thinker and writer. I’m glad he doesn’t hold back,” she says.

Colmore’s book is available online from Amazon.com in both print and Kindle formats.

Post published in: Arts

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